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The political evolution of adult-use cannabis: why postpone the inevitable?

There has been a seismic change in the country’s public opinion toward the legalization of adult-use cannabis sales, including here in Pennsylvania. A Franklin & Marshall poll released last fall indicates that 58 percent of Pennsylvania voters support recreational legalization as a political reform whose time has come.

In his 2021 budget address, Governor Wolf is once again appealing to the General Assembly to update antiquated policies and legalize sales of adult-use cannabis. Let’s explore why attitudes have changed and why Pennsylvania is in a prime position to build on the success of its experience with medical marijuana.

While it’s important to stress that marijuana is not meant to be the savior of state budgets, the Governor rightly points out that additional tax revenue on legal marijuana sales will help the state fill its coffers, especially in light of COVID-driven deficits. This budget year, policymakers will need to bridge an estimated $2.5 to 3.5 billion budget gap. Considering the unpopularity of proposed tax increases, legalizing adult-use cannabis is a viable option to addressing the economic reality the state is facing.

And there is no time like the present. New Jersey’s vote on Nov. 3 to legalize recreational sales has doubled-down on the momentum for Pennsylvania to take action or else lose much-needed revenue to its neighbor. Forty percent of Pennsylvanians live within a convenient, 30-minute drive to New Jersey and can easily cross the state line to make their purchases. Efforts to legalize adult-use sales in New York are just around the corner.

Pennsylvania passed medical marijuana reform in 2016. Ever since then, strong oversight has enabled the industry to build an infrastructure of highly regulated medical marijuana growing and processing facilities along with about 100 dispensaries across the state, and that number is growing. More than 9,000 full-time jobs have been created in less than five years. At a time when record numbers of Pennsylvanians are out of work and seeking unemployment benefits, new job growth would help communities in the four corners of the state and every county in between.

Terrapin is proud to have received one of the original licenses to operate a medical marijuana facility just outside of Lock Haven. We employ more than 75 Pennsylvanians who grow, process and package medical marijuana here in rural Clinton County. This summer, we invested an additional $6 million in capital improvements in the facility, doubling our capacity and our workforce.

When faced with COVID-19 in the spring, every state with legal marijuana programs deemed cannabis essential during shutdowns. In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana has been helping Pennsylvanians cope with the anxiety caused by COVID, as well as continue to treat existing conditions. The industry’s response during COVID has further legitimized it as a responsible industry.

Now Pennsylvania has the opportunity to move safely and quickly to expand into adult-use sales with experienced and socially responsible operators who are doing business in the state right now. We know from other states that this logical next step delivers reliable results.

According to Meredith Buettner, executive director, Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition (PCC), “PCC members have the standard operating procedures in place to get the initial adult-use market up and running expeditiously while still prioritizing patients in the medical program. The additional job growth and community investment that accompany the creation of a well-regulated adult-use market are crucial to the Commonwealth in a post COVID-19 environment.”

At Terrapin, corporate responsibility drives our business model. We promote programs and policies that emphasize investment, access, and equal opportunity for everybody. As part of our efforts to drive social justice reform, Terrapin helped found the Cannabis Impact Fund, whose mission is to promote racial justice and support underserved communities by leveraging a conscious cannabis sector. Through the Cannabis Impact Fund, Terrapin is helping others learn how to address social equity in the workplace.

Here in Pennsylvania, Terrapin continues to demonstrate our commitment to veterans, women and minority businesses through our hiring practices, contracts for services, and community support. We are helping to rehab Veteran’s Park in Lock Haven and, each year, we host an educational summit to introduce minority college students to entrepreneurial opportunities in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana industry.

Just as we have in other recreational states, the cannabis industry is prepared to work with lawmakers to address legitimate concerns. Our experience has shown that some concerns are unfounded while others can be mitigated through proper regulatory oversight.

It’s only a matter of time until the disconnect between national and state laws on cannabis is remedied. Under current federal law, cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means that it is viewed as highly addictive and has no medical value. This classification is even though medical marijuana is legal in 36 states including Washington, D.C., and another 16 states have voted to legalize full, adult use marijuana, including D.C.

At Terrapin, we are committed to socially responsible cannabis production in all the states where we operate. We are proud of our record of job creation and corporate citizenship. The time is long overdue for a drug policy that modernizes outdated thinking and takes advantage of what we have learned to create well-regulated adult-use programs that benefit all Pennsylvanians.

Christopher Woods is founder and CEO of Terrapin.

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